Participating in School Safety Drills as a Person with Autism

We are thrilled to feature this blog from one of our favorite writers!  Jeff Snyder is a neurodiversity advocate, speaker, and writer who shares his personal journey and experiences as a person with autism.  This eye-opening piece from Jeff teaches about the challenges of participating in school safety drills as a person with autism and provides advice on “being your best advocate,” as well as practical accommodations for students with sensory processing issues.

Let’s be real…fire drills are very bothersome and disruptive to autistic people. In fact, when I was in school, fire drills and other loud noises that are part of school life bothered me greatly. To be real, fire drills are important because their purpose is to prepare students and teachers, or anyone for that matter, for what happens when there is a real fire.

But I had a safety net when it came to the drills. It was put in my IEP that I would be taken out of the building before the fire alarm was pulled. This gave me the chance to get to know my town’s fire department on a personal level.

Now, while I had this safety net in place throughout my education, some others did not, either because the schools felt that the student needed to be prepared along with the rest of the school or maybe because some autistic students weren’t bothered by the loud noise.

For those who are bothered by fire alarms, they have a very good reason. Some indviduals are diagnosed with what is known as Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD, which makes it difficult for them to process loud noises or other uncomfortable situations.

But, it’s not just the noise.

There is also the matter that fire drills happen right out of the blue. Some autistic people like myself like to know when things are going to be happening, such as fire drills so we can mentally prepare ourselves for when it arrives. If you want to know if there is a fire drill scheduled, just say to your child’s teacher or principal that you just want a heads up for any scheduled fire drills.

If you feel that the student needs to go through the drill, teachers should have noise cancelling headphones on standby to reduce the noise level. This also applies to other situations where loud noises occur, such as with school assemblies. I will talk about this in the next blog!

It’s also worth noting that fire drills can happen in the workplace too, so if you wish to get an accommodation from your employer to get a heads up too, by all means request the accommodation.